Chisinau – Moldavia

Chisinau Cathedral

… or how did I travel through time

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When I was 16 I was leaving to Chisinau, Moldavia. There’s SO much to say about this, right? Why there? Why so young? I could barely tell the difference between a raw potato and a french fry. Well, my only explanation is that it just sort of happened.

All my life I thought that traveling abroad means having money. Lots of it. Too much. Basically, it will never happen for me, while having one “good” pair of jeans, which I have to wash during the weekend so that I can use it at school the next week.

Of course, by that time, RyanAir wasn’t available in Romania, I didn’t have a job, and traveling just meant a few camps in primary school and some trips to relatives. But life isn’t always like you imagine it to be when you’re fourteen or fifteen, thus sometimes explaining the poor life choices we make when applying for college.

Step 1: Gather money to get to Chisinau

But, here I am, an 11th-grade teenager, face to face with the next situation: taking part in writing competitions, you’ll win something from time to time.

Usually, it’s a diploma, a handshake, a mailed congratulations card or, the best case, a so-called creation camp – basically, you participate in a contest which is based in a secluded place, and you have to be there for about a week.

But this time something was different: the organizers of this contest have invited us to the award ceremony, which was located in Chisinau, Moldova. But only the invitation was sent, the other logistics involved were our business to take care of.

And, it is known, everyone wants to sponsor 4 teenagers and a teacher to go and take their diplomas from God knows where like the post office isn’t available for that service already.

But, with the help of an amazing teacher that wasn’t even able to come with us (due to some health problems, unfortunately), we were able to make the trip possible, financially.

Step 2: Have your papers ready

So, our group looks like this: our teacher (the one that we convinced to come, and I think he still regrets it), me, Madalina (16 years old, very arrogant, but a very good and talented writer), Alina (20 years old, a very nice and sweet girl), and another Madalina (13 years old, and I don’t know a lot about her).

A lot of underaged girls accompanied by a man, huh? Well, this is also how the Romanian authorities see it. That’s why you cannot leave the country without your parents’ consent, or accompanied by them if you’re underaged.

I have to specify that, in Romania, you become a full adult at the age of 18, so Alina, for example, just needed a passport to exit the country. We went to a notary’s office and legalized a document in which it was stated that my parents agreed to me leaving the country unaccompanied by them.

Two days later, we had to go to a bigger town than the one we lived in, to have our photos taken for the passports. During school hours, which means all of us were waken up since 6 AM. I’m SO glad I had to turn in that passport, the photo was horrible.

We had to go and take the passports on Saturday (the journey was going to start on Sunday). In the beginning, our nice teacher hoped he could take all the passports, but he wasn’t able to.

So he had to call for each of us to come and take them, excluding the little Madalina, who had already her passport done. I was in bed, feeling amazingly sick. It was a beautiful day that day, having to get out of bed and walk around while feeling so bad.

Step 3: Let the games begin

12:00. We meet at the train station. There is a lot of big and heavy luggage, a small backpack filled with documents, a mobile phone and a camera (not a digital one, a classical one, with film and everything).

Still, the heaviest thing around was the emotional baggage, considering a large number of parents involved. We rode to Bucharest for 5 hours, which makes it a good deal for the 200 km distance we had to cover. During college, I even spend 8 hours on the same track, so 5 hours it’s actually quite good.

     19:00. We get tired of staying at the North Train Station in Bucharest. Alina and I are fed up to hide from the teacher to be able to smoke. Well, actually, it was mostly me, Alina was at the proper age and was not in high school anymore.

We get on board the “Friendship” train, the only one that was available for this journey. It was the first time I saw a sleeping cabin and some train attendants – they do the same things as the flight attendants, but for trains.

Obviously, all of us 4 girls were in the same cabin, one with four beds, and the teacher into another one, just near ours, but still separated. The ride was long until we reached Ungheni, the border passage point we had to go to, bear in mind that it was about 300 miles away.

And then, the custom-house officer, a really nice and young lady, hits us with the big news: the 13 years old Madalina cannot continue the journey. Maybe she did have a passport and didn’t spend her time on the roads, trying to get one, but she didn’t have her parents’ consent for her to leave the country unaccompanied by them.

She thought that since she had a passport, everything was OK. This was the case only because she was with her family when she traveled abroad on different occasions. The customs officer said that if she left her alone, the other guys, from the other part of the border, can still stop her from going ahead, which was a worse option, we had to agree.

10 minutes and 1000 thoughts later, our dear Madalina got down to the Ungheni train station, with some money in her pocket from our teacher, with her phone battery full and ready for multiple phone calls with her parents, with some food and with the honest promise from the nice lady that she’ll take care of her. Welcome to the real world, Madalina!

She thought that since she had a passport, everything was OK. This was the case only because she was with her family when she traveled abroad on different occasions. The customs officer said that if she left her alone, the other guys, from the other part of the border, can still stop her from going ahead, which was a worse option, we had to agree. 10 minutes and 1000 thoughts later, our dear Madalina got down to the Ungheni train station, with some money in her pocket from our teacher, with her phone battery full and ready for multiple phone calls with her parents, with some food and with the honest promise from the nice lady that she’ll take care of her. Welcome to the real world, Madalina!

     23:00. The wheels are changing. For those of you who don’t know, East from the Romanian border, there’s a change in what is called the railroad gauge.

In short, Stalin made this change during the WW2, so that Hitler wasn’t able to move his tanks by train anymore, as he did through all Europe until then. I don’t guarantee this story, it’s based only on my general knowledge which can, of course, be wrong.

And, although you may think that you have to change trains, things are not at all that simple. Since you have passed one border, you are now into what it’s called the free zone, so you’re not allowed to set your foot on the ground.

That being said, every wagon is separated from the train, lifted up with something similar to an elevator, and the bottom of the wagon is changed with a proper one for the rest of the journey. All of this happens with the passengers still on the train. Some of them, sleeping. Or non-stop talking, like us.

     04:00. We continue our journey, getting to the other custom office. The Moldavian custom officer, a very obvious image of “Welcome to the Republic of Moldavia!”. Blonde, with green eyes and a little darker skin, with a green beret on her head, with the Moldavian coat of arms mounted on the front of it, very beautiful, nice and friendly.

Just close your eyes and imagine a Russian woman: this was the exact image of this woman. She takes our passports and the whole package of documents to verify, and she’s being followed by a guy who had to verify our baggage. It was the shortest security check in my life:


    – Good morning ladies, what do you have in your bags?
    – Good morning, clothes and make-up. Wanna see?
    – Thank you, have a nice day!


That was it. He probably thought he will not get out alive. He was probably right.

Step 4: Enjoy the destination

Once we arrived at the train station, a strange feeling of time traveling has flooded us. Maybe it was from the 2 square meters coat of arms, painted on the train station’s walls?

Maybe it was from the people’s clothes, which looked the same as the ones from the sepia effect photos that my parents showed me? Maybe the buildings, the streets, the language? I couldn’t say. But it seems like the feeling is still present in the area like some friends have told me after getting only recently back from a trip there.

In the cultural shocks section, we have:

  • In trams and buses, you have to pay a ticket also for the luggage, if you don’t hold them into your arms or lap.
  • People DO NOT speak Romanian; they don’t know it or they act like they don’t know it, I’m not sure, but my hands hurt while speaking so much Romanian for three days. Not even the receptionist from the hotel (Hotel Chisinau, not an obscure motel in the suburbs) knew anything else but Russian. Neither did other people that had talking-to-public jobs, like waiters, cash register agents or police officers. We’ve tried Romanian, English, French, Spanish. We didn’t know anything else but these.
  • At around 8-9 PM, everything was closed. If you wanted to have a beer, you couldn’t. You should be thankful that beer was available, Romania under communism was much worse than this.
  • Numbers 4&5 cannot be translated, they’re somehow related to the Romanian culture. Basically, some things that were jokes in Romania were taken seriously here, which made them funnier.

The accommodation

The accommodation was something special. Even though we went to a well-known hotel, the accommodation was, at most, mediocre. The TV was working only in our room: our teacher had to ask us nicely to be able to watch a soccer match one evening, ’cause soccer is the same in every language.

Hot water, about the same. When he wanted a shower that took more than 15 minutes, he also had to negotiate with us. The windows didn’t open, the plaster was scorched and everyone who worked there didn’t speak anything but Russian.

The only good thing was the breakfast, which was very good and well-received by us. That’s how you were surprised before Booking and other similar platforms appeared, places where you can read reviews before you can decide.

The people

People seemed sad. They seemed out of this world, poor and that they have worked for a large part of their lives. On a bus, one time, I managed to lose my momentum and fell into the arms of a young boy, probably in his 20s.

I thought it was funny, our teacher made fun of me, saying he cannot leave me there if I wanted to get married, everyone from our group was having a good time. Still, no one from the bus seemed to enjoy what was happening, they were just staring and that’s it.

We didn’t visit a lot of places, considering the same reasons. When we got closer to a big building, wanting to find out what it was, we were met by some nice guys in military uniforms and with their machine guns ready, and they informed us that yes, it was an important building, but we won’t see it any closer than that.

We managed to visit a church or a cathedral, I cannot say for sure what it was, and the Stephan the Great park (a lot of stuff are called Stephan the Great in Chisinau). I had some pictures, but I managed to lose them while moving from room to room, yearly, for the entire college period.

The award ceremony lasted about 3 hours, and it was exclusively in Russian: we assumed they said nice things about us, or at least we hope they did.

Step 5: Go back home

As we were some smart young ladies, we bought all kinds of snacks and candy to have on the way back. The Moldavian customs officer decided to have a discussion with us that was similar to his co-worker, from the inbound trip.

Still, he asked us if we had any drugs, but our naive faces probably looked innocent enough that he didn’t feel the need to also check our luggage. But, as a change, the Romanian officer came with a beautiful, German Shepard dog, which looked amazingly healthy and majestic.

This miracle of nature came to our place and started messing his head into our stash of snacks and sweets. We obviously thought it was hungry; 15 minutes later, the owner came into our compartment and started cursing.

The dog was eating biscuits from our hands, without having any issues, while we were playing and petting him like it was our own furry toy.

Basically, we threw in the trash the last 6 months of work, by not knowing that these types of dogs are allowed to only eat some specific food, at specific times, fed by specific people, so that it’s smell and taste is not ruined and are still able to detect drugs.

The dog went straight to our food supplies not because it was hungry, but because, apparently, people usually hide drugs in there. That being said, since it ate from us, I don’t think it was very highly educated, but it was a little too late for this discussion anyway.

Well, that was it. Unfortunately, my memory is not like it used to be, so I cannot provide more. Still, as you can see, that saying that the journey is more important than the destination fully applies in this case. But what I remember is the feeling. I left the country, I was grown up.

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